"Car-Free Seattle Day," a grass-roots effort aimed at reducing the city's dependence on the automobile, is in only its second year. But this year's event had new ammunition: a proclamation from Mayor Greg Nickels declaring yesterday Car-Free Seattle Day.
The city did little to promote the event in comparison to other parts of the world, such as Bogotá, Colombia, where the city center is closed to cars and violators face $25 fines. In fact, most people here had no idea it was Car-Free Seattle Day.
The participants — bike messengers, bike enthusiasts and a handful of families — hoped that by the end of the day they would be able to get more people thinking about lessening their dependence on cars.
"It just seems such an important issue," said Robert Zverina, a conceptual artist and landscaper who won a $5,000 grant from the city to put on the event. "Cars are bad for the environment, they are noisy, they isolate people from each other and they undermine communities."
Seattle-Everett reportedly has the fifth-worst traffic congestion in the country. The Department of Licensing says car registrations in King County increased from just over 1 million in 1995 to 1.2 million in 2001.
Zverina said he stumbled on the grant program for reducing car dependence when he was applying for a job with the city. He's lived in New York and Prague and said he was so inspired by the ease of public transportation in those cities that he's been on a mission to undo the prevalence of car culture in this country.
With the grant money from the city, he created a Web site, www.thinksmall.org, and developed pamphlets and fliers about the event.
Among those taking part was Terri Gilbert, the mother of three kids ages 6, 3 and 1. She said she loves taking the bus from Columbia City to her job at the University of Washington. Her husband, Scott Houghton, who works for a pharmaceutical company, said he drives a company car but rarely uses it.
"Seattle has an awesome public-transportation system," Gilbert said.
Louise Helbling, who just moved here from New York, said although Seattle doesn't have a subway system, she's not having a problem living without a car.
In fact, she prefers it. She biked from near the Central Area with her husband and 3½ month old baby to lend her support.
"It's a great way to become less oil-dependent," she said.
They were one of 50-some bikers who gathered in Columbia City at the Bike Works bicycle shop and then rode in the Rainier Valley Heritage Festival Parade. From there they went to Capitol Hill to do some sidewalk art and then on Fremont to participate in Tour de Fat, a festival of beer and bikes.
Bobbi Nodell: 206-464-2342 or firstname.lastname@example.org.